If you know me, you know that hiking is my jam.
You may also know that I’ve been traveling Europe full-time for almost 10 years.
I still have a lot of Europe to explore, but 10 years is a lot of hikes. And so I thought I’d take a stab at ranking European countries based on their hiker-friendliness.
Hopefully, if you’re planning a hiking trip, this will help you narrow down your options.
Before we dive in, a quick caveat: This is based on my personal experience and personal feelings. I am the type of hiker who loves a clear trail on a well-marked route (but not too crowded). I also prefer to cycle or take public transit (rather than renting a car) to get to the trailhead. I hike solo and prefer trails where I feel like if I twist my ankle somebody will eventually stumble upon me (e.g. somewhat trafficked but not crowded). And I prefer staying in mountain huts or other accommodations with beds over camping.
All that to say: these rankings reflect those preferences. Wild country hikers, off-trail adventurers, and those who plan to rent a car to get to the mountains may feel differently (and that’s okay).
If your preferences match up with mine, here are my feelings about hiker-friendliness around Europe.
My ranking system:
One is the lowest ranking. It means trails weren’t marked, were difficult to access, weren’t kept up, and/or I felt unsafe hiking here.
Two is a bit better, but still a less than average experience.
Three is average. Trails are generally marked and cleared regularly. You can access them without too much difficulty. And hiking solo feels safe.
Four is exceptional. Trails are well marked and not confusing. The country puts resources into maintaining said trails. And they’re easy to access.
Five is is the cream of the crop. In addition to all the basics, you’ll find extras like great mountain huts, free maps, abundant water fountains on marked trails, etc.
So, based on my personal experience (with the caveat – again – that others may feel differently!), what are the most and least hiker-friendly countries in Europe?
Here are my rankings, with countries listed in alphabetical order:
Reasoning: Austria is a hiking haven. Well-marked trails are clean and well-kept. You can easily access great trails by bus, train, tram, etc. (no car required!). And you’ll find plenty of variety here: from level, wide paths through valleys to steep treks up craggy mountains. A particularly favorite of mine for hiking is the area around Bad Ischl.
Reasoning: This cute, flat country has some lovely nature areas to hike through. Trails are well-kept and safe, though landscapes aren’t as variable as some of the countries on our list.
Check out: Bourgoyen.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Reasoning: Trails here tend to be a bit less accessible and less kept up and some of the trails I’ve attempted have turned out to be partly on roads shared with cars and/or scattered with garbage. If you can get deeper into the wilderness, there are some beautiful landscapes to behold, but consider this an off-the-beaten-track hiking destination and don’t expect much from the trails closest to town. It’s also worth noting that there are still active mines from the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Stay on the trails and hire an experienced hiking guide for safety.
Reasoning: I love some of the walks I’ve taken along the coast, but overall my experience with Croatia was very inconsistent.
There were some beautiful, well-kept, well-marked trails in places like Plitvice National Park, Samobor, and Omis. But I also encountered a substantial amount of poorly marked, unkempt, and substantially overgrown trails (in places where the trails were supposedly maintained). Istria, in particular, was a difficult place to hike. I found many trails were out of use and covered in spiderwebs and loose scree that made me feel less-than-safe hiking solo (since the spiderwebs indicate that the trails are rarely used and the scree was a sprained ankle waiting to happen).
So, I’ve ranked Croatia a tiny bit below average, but with the caveat that it depends where you go!
Reasoning: I adored the hikes I did in Bohemian Switzerland and Karlovy Vary. Gorgeous nature. Well-kept trails. Occasionally, the trail marking weren’t great and I ended up off route, but overall the trails were clear.
Reasoning: Trails here are well-kept and stunning (especially the bogs with their raised wooden platforms!). They also tend to be well signposted. The only tricky thing about hiking here is getting yourself to the hikes if you don’t have a car. I managed to get to a few, but expect to take a bus or train and then walk through a town or even along a main road a bit to get to most.
Reasoning: France does a fantastic job with both signage and keeping hiking trails clear and well-maintained. They also have a wide variety in terms of difficulty levels and landscapes. Choose flat, paved paths through the Loire Valley or climb into the Alps in the east.
Reasoning: Germany also has very well-kept trails. I did find signage to be a bit hit or miss in the Black Forest area (which is why they aren’t a 4 on my scale), but I also felt very safe even as I got lost and ended up hiking twice as long as I’d planned.
Check out: the Black Forest.
Reasoning: Expect stunning landscapes that range from mountain lakes to hill-country vineyards to ancient stone paths. The trails I’ve walked have been well maintained, and I have yet to get lost on an Italian trail, though signposts/trail markers aren’t as frequent or clear as some of the other places I’ve hiked.
Check out: Lago di Fusine, Taormina castle (short), the path down the hill from Assisi to the old nunnery (open seasonally).
Reasoning: The stunning coastal trail around Gozo is a worthwhile walk (and well-maintained), but don’t expect great trail markers (still – it’s easy to follow since you are basically just following the coastline).
Check out: Gozo’s coastal trail.
Reasoning: Bog walks and coastal trails are pretty and varied, with plenty of pine forests and white-sand beaches available. Expect well-maintained trails (especially at the bogs), but sometimes without great trail markers. Some trails are very easy to access without a car; others require either a car or a long hike along back roads to get to the actual trail.
Check out: Great Kemeri Bog Boardwalk (if you are allergic to bees, though, this isn’t for you – this bog is teeming with them), Lilaste to Saulkrasti (coastal walk), Vecāķi to Lilaste (coastal walk), Sigulda to Turaida.
Reasoning: Even on popular hiking trails, signposts and markers can be scarce (and I definitely took the wrong route at least once). Trail access is also variable (sometimes you need a car; sometimes you can access easily by bus). But most the trails we attempted were well-maintained and I felt safe as long as I wasn’t on the road. One note to keep in mind: If you are walking along a road, be extremely alert. Montenegro, sadly, has a drunk driver problem (including in the daytime). Non-roadside trails should be perfectly safe and the landscapes are stunning and worth exploring.
Reasoning: While Romania has some gorgeous nature, I did find trails a bit difficult to navigate because of a lack of signposts/markers. I didn’t hike here as much as some places, though, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. Trails were well-maintained, even when not well-marked. Access is challenging unless you have a car.
Check out: the trails around Bran Castle.
Reasoning: Hikes here are stunning and trails are well-maintained. Trail marking in the Alps area could use some work, so make sure you have a good map on hand. You do not need a car to access some truly spectacular hikes (though you could certainly rent a car and go deeper into the Alps).
Check out: the loop around Lake Bled and up to the castle (easy), the many trails around Kranjska Gora.
Reasoning: I found hiking in Spain to be a bit of a challenge. Getting to the trails from various towns/villages typically required a car or a walk along a busy road. Some trails had a garbage problem. And signposts were hit or miss. Keep in mind that Spain is HUGE and I’ve only hiked in a couple areas: around Toledo and around Nerja. These observations may or may not apply to the rest of the country.
Reasoning: Switzerland is my hiking darling. Trails are a priority for the country and are maintained meticulously. Signposts are the best I’ve ever experienced (especially in the German cantons). Trails feel clean and safe and are free from litter and you’ll find plenty of variety – from serious mountain hikes to low-altitude gorges to pretty valley strolls. You’ll also often have access to free maps, tons of water fountains along trails to keep you hydrated (not on all trails, but many), and dog poo bags on the more accessible trails, in case you forgot yours.
You also do not need a car here. Trains, buses, trams, etc. will get you to and from tons of great hikes. This is the creme de la creme of hiking destinations.